What is HHMI Biology FEST?

College and university-level biology teaching in the U.S. is highly regarded as producing some of the best researchers and clinicians in the world. Attrition in undergraduate science education, however, is renowned (Seymour, 1997), and biological literacy rates among the general U.S. citizenry are acknowledged to be low. Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education has recently called for significant changes in the learning experiences of all college biology students (AAAS, 2011). However, for decades, the vast majority of university biology instructors have taught with little to no formal pedagogical preparation, with little opportunity for collaboration in teaching, and limited access to assessment evidence gauging student conceptual change.

Together, as a strong collaboration between the SFSU SEPAL: The Science Education Partnership & Assessment Laboratory and the SFSU Department of Biology, we propose Biology FEST: Biology Faculty Explorations in Scientific Teaching, a multi-pronged faculty development program that will enhance faculty pedagogical expertise, provide support for iteratively changing their teaching, engage faculty in regular discussions of student assessment evidence, and build infrastructure to support comprehensive curricular reform in the future. The overarching goal of the effort is to produce students who are scientifically curious and literate leaders in society regardless of their eventual career emphasesBiology FEST has the potential to transform the learning experiences of the ~5,000 students – almost 20% of the SFSU student body – each semester who are enrolled in majors and non-majors biology courses. Through this initial effort, we aspire to prepare biology faculty pedagogically through scientific teaching for more comprehensive curricular re-envisioning in the future.

Biology FEST effort has grown out of strong interest by biology faculty (>85%) in accessing the pedagogical development that SEPAL has previously fostered among K-12 science educators, graduate teaching assistants, and community college faculty. Biology FEST activities will engage both tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty who teach across all curricular areas in majors and non-majors courses through the following specific aims:

Aim 1: Enhance pedagogical expertise of biology faculty through explorations in scientific teaching

Aim 2: Provide intellectual resources to support biology faculty in iteratively improving their teaching

Aim 3: Engage faculty in design and analysis of assessments across the biology curriculum

Aim 4: Foster infrastructure development to move towards more extensive curricular change

To accomplish these aims, Biology FEST will facilitate annual faculty development activities including Scientific Teaching Workshops, Scientific Teaching Summer InstitutesTeaching Squares, Classroom Research Partnerships, and Assessment Community Gatherings. In addition, 6 classrooms will be equipped with instructional technology systems to support implementation, and two Scientific Teaching Postdoctoral Fellows will collaborate in developing tools and synthesizing program-level student assessments.

The proposed Biology FEST effort represents the first phase of a long-term effort to fundamentally transform the learning experiences of all students taking biology courses at this diverse, public, urban institution that enrolls almost 30,000 students each year. There is a wonderful confluence of events at SFSU at this moment: local expertise on effective biology teaching through SEPAL, a biology faculty enthusiastic and eager for change, and the infrastructure to collect assessment evidence from large numbers of students. Given that SFSU is a large, diverse, urban campus with a research-active biology faculty, Biology FEST has the potential to be a national model for engaging an entire faculty in collaborative explorations in scientific teaching towards the goal of improved undergraduate student biology learning.